5 Gut Healthy (and Easy to Pack!) School Lunches

Even though you can’t watch over your kids during the school day, at least you can send them off with a good, nourishing lunch. Realistically though, coming up with healthy school lunches that your kids will actually want to eat sometimes feels like an almost impossible task.

And in truth, you have no sure way of knowing if your efforts even paid off—and whether the wholesome food you lovingly prepared ends up in the trash can, or is traded away for a glazed donut! It’s enough to drive a health-conscious parent crazy.

Thankfully, with just a little planning and creativity it really is possible to give your kids healthy lunches that are way too appealing to throw or give away. These five gut-healthy, easy school lunches are filled with so much yummy goodness, you can rest assured that your kids will make it a point to enjoy every last bite.

1. Sunny “Sushi”

Sushi’s attractive presentation and inviting shapes tend to be a big hit with the younger set, so why limit fun food rolls to restaurant fare? This updated take on classic PB&J substitutes sunflower seed butter for peanut butter, which makes it safe to bring into schools where some of the students may have peanut sensitivities. Sunflower seeds are rich in folate, vitamin E, and phytosterols for cardiovascular health, as well as magnesium to support mood, muscles, and immunity. They’re also an excellent prebiotic for microbial wellness, as is the mashed banana “jelly”.

Ingredients:
• 2 tablespoons unsweetened organic sunflower seed butter
• 2 tablespoons mashed banana
• Pinch of cinnamon
• 2 slices organic, sprouted whole grain bread

Instructions:
1. Carefully trim crusts from bread.
2. On a clean, flat surface, roll bread flat with a rolling pin.
3. In a small bowl, mix cinnamon into mashed banana.
4. Spread one tablespoon each of sunflower seed butter and mashed banana/cinnamon onto each flattened bread slice.
5. Roll each slice tightly into a spiral.
6. Cut each spiral roll into four pieces.
7. Serve with chopsticks.

2. Tropical Tides Trail Mix

What kid wouldn’t be happy to find trail mix in their lunch box? And what could be easier than packing trail mix? Trail mix earns its name for a good reason—just a few handfuls of it effectively halts hikers’ hunger pangs, while delivering the protein, healthy rib-sticking fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and prebiotics necessary to keep going over challenging treks.

Just like hikers, kids need endurance to get through long school days, which is why trail mix is a perfect addition to almost any lunch box. Unlike many of the mixes you’ll find at the supermarket though, this satisfying recipe is free of refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives of any kind—and its tropical flavors will have kids feeling like they’re snacking on a tranquil beach, instead of sitting in a noisy, crowded cafeteria. If nut sensitivities are an issue, simply substitute sunflower seeds for the cashews and macadamia nuts.

Ingredients:
• ¾ cup of raw, organic cashews
• ¼ cup raw, organic macadamia nuts
• ¼ cup raw, organic pumpkin seeds
• ½ cup organic pistachios
• ¼ cup organic dried coconut slices
• ¼ cup organic dried papaya chunks
• ¼ cup organic dried mango chunks
• ¼ cup organic dried pineapple chunks
• ¼ cup organic dried kiwifruit

Instructions:
Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl, and store for up to eight weeks in an airtight container.

3. Homestyle Ranch Vegan Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a dependable kid favorite, but the risks of mayo-based dressing sitting out at room temperature for any length of time makes it less than ideal to send in your kids’ lunchbox. That’s why, even if you don’t follow a vegan diet, you may want to consider substituting vegan alternatives to mayonnaise when fine-tuning your healthy school lunch ideas.

This tangy ranch pasta salad is vegan, gluten-free, and rich in protein, prebiotics, healthy fats, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and much more. You’ll need to set aside a little prep time the night before, but the taste is well worth it. (If you need to shave some time in a pinch, substitute prepared organic vegan bacon or actual organic humane certified-bacon for the tempeh bacon bits.)

Ingredients:

For the Pasta
• 12 oz gluten-free elbow macaroni
• ¾ cup organic frozen peas
• 5 organic sundried tomatoes, chopped
• 1 small organic carrot, peeled and shredded

For the Vegan Bacon Bits:
• ½ tablespoon olive oil
• ½ package (4 oz) organic tempeh
• 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
• ½ tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
• ⅛ teaspoon cumin
• Pinch of turmeric
• ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
• 2 drops liquid smoke

For the Ranch Dressing:
• ¾ cup organic vegan mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon organic unsweetened plant based milk
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 1 ¼ tablespoons nutritional yeast
• 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
• Fresh ground black pepper and pink salt to taste
• ¾ teaspoon fresh dill
• ½ teaspoon garlic powder
• ⅛ teaspoon onion powder
• ½ scoop organic prebiotic powder

Instructions:
1. Prepare ranch dressing by processing all dressing ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy. Transfer dressing to an airtight container and set aside in fridge.
2. For the bacon bits, mash tempeh in a bowl until crumbly. Mix in remaining ingredients and saute for about five minutes in healthy oil, until browned. Set aside.
3. Prepare pasta according to package directions and drain.
4. Stir frozen peas into hot cooked pasta, and allow to sit for at least one minute.
5. Mix carrots and sundried tomatoes into the pasta.
6. Pour ranch dressing over pasta and stir until well coated.
7. Stir “bacon” bits into pasta.
8. Chill pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge.

4. Very Berry No-Bake Granola Bars

Granola bars are always a welcome lunch box treat because they feel like dessert! Sadly though, if you read the ingredient list on many commercial granola bars, that’s because they actually are dessert—with high levels of refined sugar, unhealthy oils, and artificial additives.

Treating your kids to genuinely healthy granola bars is easy, thanks to this simple no-bake recipe. Berries are high in anthocyanins and flavonoids to support the nervous system, brain function, cardiovascular health, immunity, and healthy blood sugar levels. Nuts and seeds give your kids the protein and good fat they need to sail through busy school days without running out of steam. If nut sensitivities are an issue at your child’s school, simply substitute pumpkin seeds for the pecans, and sunflower seed butter for the almond butter.

Ingredients:
• 2 cups organic unsweetened puffed brown rice cereal
• 2 cups organic oats
• ¼ cup organic pecans, chopped
• ¼ cup organic sunflower seeds
• ¼ cup organic shredded coconut (unsweetened)
• ½ cup organic dried blueberries
• ½ cup organic dried strawberries
• ½ cup organic almond butter
• ½ cup brown rice syrup
• 2 teaspoons organic vanilla

Instructions:
1. Mix rice cereal, oats, seeds, nuts, berries, and coconut together in a large bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, heat almond butter, rice syrup, and vanilla until warm. Be careful not to boil.
3. Pour hot nut butter-syrup over cereal and fruit. Stir until everything is coated thoroughly before syrup mixture cools.
4. Transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 pan and pack down firmly.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool.
6. Cut into approximately 24 bars and enjoy!

5. Happy Healthy Hummus

There’s something about dips that pleases children of all ages. Your kids will be thrilled to find a container of this Mediterranean staple in their lunchboxes, and parents will love the fact that they’re providing a prebiotic powerhouse that’s also rich in protein, vitamin E, vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and more.

This basic hummus recipe will be ready in minutes, and can be packed for lunch along with pita wedges, raw veggies, or vegetable chips for a happy dipping experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, customize this hummus to your kids’ taste by hand-stirring in sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, or roasted eggplant as a final step.

Ingredients:
• 1 ½ cups organic chickpeas, soaked and fully cooked (or one 15-oz can)
• Juice of one large lemon
• ⅓ cup organic tahini
• 1 small garlic clove, minced
• 2 ¼ tablespoons extra-virgin organic olive oil, plus extra
• ½ teaspoon cumin
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• Pinch of black pepper
• ½ scoop of organic prebiotic powder
• Paprika to taste

Instructions:
1. Combine tahini and lemon juice in a food processor for 60 seconds.
2. Scrape down the sides and process for an additional 30 seconds.
3. Add all remaining ingredients except chickpeas and paprika. Process for 30 seconds, scrape down, and process 30 seconds more.
4. Pour in half the chickpeas and process for 60 seconds.
5. Scrape down, add the rest of the chickpeas and process for between one to two minutes, until mixture is thick and smooth.
6. If hummus still has visible chunks or is too thick, gradually add a few tablespoons of water with the food processor running until mixture reaches the desired consistency.
7. Transfer to an airtight container, sprinkle with paprika, and store in the fridge for up to one week.

Creating delicious, healthy lunches for kids provides them with a dining experience they can look forward to, while supporting their developing minds and bodies with solid nutrition. But the good you’re doing doesn’t end there! When you pack those great lunches in containers made only from environmentally sustainable materials, such as fun bento boxes and no-leak lunchboxes from ECOlunchbox, you’ll be nurturing Mother Earth too, so that your kids—and many generations to come—can enjoy this beautiful amazing planet to the fullest.